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Which Motherboard Should You Buy for Intel's 12th Gen CPUs?

Now that Intel's 12th generation Core (Alder Lake) CPUs are available, which motherboards should you get for them?

Alder Lake State Park Eric Friedebach / flickr

Last Updated: November 19, 2021

Written by Kevin Jones

Motherboard Requirements for Intel's 12th Generation Core CPUs

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For 12th Gen Intel Core processors, you'll need a motherboard with an LGA1700 socket and the Z690 chipset (the only one currently available in the 600-series).

DDR4 or DDR5 Memory

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Because DDR4 and DDR5 are not backward compatible, you will need to decide which one you want to go with before selecting a motherboard.

DDR5 memory is currently more expensive than DDR4.

However, it offers up to double the stock data rates of DDR4. Overclockers could push this limit even further.

Additionally, DDR5 supports higher-capacity DIMMs (256 GB vs. 64 GB).

DDR5 may experience slower timings at initial release but should be much better than DDR4 as the technology matures.

DDR5 memory appears to be out of stock at most retailers, so I recommend sticking with DDR4 or preparing for a long wait.

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Best Intel High-Performance Enthusiast CPU: Intel Core i9-12900K

  • Up to 5.2 GHz: perfect for games, video editing, and high-intensity tasks.

  • 16 cores (8 Performance + 8 Efficiency): Quite a few cores considering the frequency! This combination makes it a great all-around system that can handle almost any task.

  • Virtualization features make it great for running virtual machines.

  • Check the latest price of the Intel Core i9-12900K on Amazon (affiliate link).

    Intel Core i9-12900K Processor 16 Cores (8P+8E) up to 5.2 GHz Intel Core i9-12900K Processor 16 Cores (8P+8E) up to 5.2 GHz Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)
  • For the Intel Core i9-12900K CPU, you'll need a motherboard with the Z690 chipset.

  • Our recommended DDR4 motherboard to pair with the i9-12900K is Gigabyte's Z690 AORUS Elite AX DDR4: GIGABYTE Z690 AORUS Elite AX DDR4 GIGABYTE Z690 AORUS Elite AX DDR4 Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)

    • PCIe 5.0 support
    • It supports up to 128GB of DDR4 memory!
    • 2.5 Gb Ethernet port is faster than most home Internet speeds with room to spare for file transfers.
    • Wi-Fi 6
    • Bluetooth 5.2 is great for streaming music to Bluetooth headphones.
    • Four x4 NVMe M.2 slots, which is fantastic! All four of these run at PCIe 4.0 speeds.
    • USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 offers 20 Gbps USB speeds!
    • Check the latest price of the GIGABYTE Z690 AORUS Elite AX DDR4 on Amazon (affiliate link).
  • Our recommended DDR5 motherboard to pair with the i9-12900K is Gigabyte's Z690 AORUS Master: GIGABYTE Z690 AORUS Master GIGABYTE Z690 AORUS Master Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)

    • PCIe 5.0 support
    • It supports up to 128GB of DDR5 memory (DDR5 provides the fastest memory speeds)!

      DDR5 memory appears to be out of stock at most retailers, so I recommend sticking with a DDR4 motherboard or preparing for a long wait.

    • 10 Gbps Ethernet port is faster than any home Internet speed available with tons of room to spare for file transfers.
    • Wi-Fi 6E makes it easy to reach the fastest speeds and future-proof your Wi-Fi system.
    • Bluetooth 5.2 is great for streaming music to Bluetooth headphones.
    • Four x4 NVMe M.2 slots, which is fantastic! Three of these run at PCIe 4.0 speeds, and one at PCIe 3.0 speeds.
    • USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 offers 20 Gbps USB speeds!
    • Check the latest price of the GIGABYTE Z690 AORUS Master on Amazon (affiliate link).

Best Value CPU: Intel Core i5-12600K

  • Less than half the price of the i9-12900K, but still excellent performance at up to 4.9 GHz.

  • 10 cores (6 Performance + 4 Efficiency): This core count makes it suitable for everyday multi-threading tasks, such as having tons of browser windows open.

  • Virtualization features make it great for running virtual machines.

  • Check the latest price of the Intel Core i5-12600K on Amazon (affiliate link).

    Intel Core i5-12600K Intel Core i5-12600K Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)
  • For the Intel Core i5-11600K CPU, you'll need a motherboard with the Z690 chipset to support PCIe 5.0.

  • Our recommended DDR4 motherboard to pair with the i5-12600K is GIGABYTE's Z690 Gaming X DDR4 motherboard: GIGABYTE Z690 Gaming X DDR4 GIGABYTE Z690 Gaming X DDR4 Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)

    • PCIe 5.0 support
    • It supports up to 128GB of DDR4 memory!
    • Four x4 NVMe M.2 slots, which is fantastic! All four of these run at PCIe 4.0 speeds.
    • 2.5 Gb Ethernet port is faster than most home Internet speeds with room to spare for file transfers.
    • USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 offers 20 Gbps USB speeds!
    • Check the latest price of the GIGABYTE Z690 Gaming X DDR4 on Amazon (affiliate link).
  • Our recommended DDR5 motherboard to pair with the i5-12600K is GIGABYTE's Z690 AORUS PRO motherboard: GIGABYTE Z690 AORUS PRO GIGABYTE Z690 AORUS PRO Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)

    • PCIe 5.0 support
    • It supports up to 128GB of DDR5 memory!

      DDR5 memory appears to be out of stock at most retailers, so I recommend sticking with a DDR4 motherboard or preparing for a long wait.

    • Three NVMe M.2 slots, which is excellent! These all run at PCIe 4.0 speeds.
    • 2.5 Gb Ethernet port is faster than most home Internet speeds with room to spare for file transfers.
    • USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 offers 20 Gbps USB speeds!
    • Check the latest price of the GIGABYTE Z690 AORUS PRO on Amazon (affiliate link).

Considerations When Choosing a CPU Cooler

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Thermal Dissipation

A CPU cooler's TDP (Thermal Design Power) rating indicates how much heat it can dissipate. If the cooler can't keep your CPU cool enough, your CPU may throttle (slow down), and your cooler will constantly run at full speed.

Intel CPU specifications indicate this power dissipation number as "Processor Base Power" and "Maximum Turbo Power."

The Core i9-12900K has a TDP of 125–241 watts, depending on the workload.

Types of Coolers

Air coolers use a combination of heatsinks and fans. They are the cheapest, but also the loudest.

A Closed-Loop Cooler (CLC), also called an All-in-One (AIO) cooler, is a type of water cooler. All-in-One water coolers provide a more straightforward setup in a single pre-built package.

Water cooling can provide even better TDP performance at lower noise levels but are more expensive and take up more room.

Open-Loop Coolers are also a type of water cooler, but ones which you construct yourself. They allow for more flexibility in building your perfect cooling solution but can also be more complicated to set up. Open-loop systems give you the flexibility to cool additional devices, such as your graphics card's GPU.

Noise

More fans typically mean better cooling. However, they also mean more noise.

Larger fans are typically quieter than smaller fans, as they can move the same amount of air at lower speeds.

If a cooler is struggling to cool a CPU, it will run at its maximum speed, which will be louder.

Fan noise levels are measured a dB. Lower dB values are quieter.

Lighting

Some CPU cooler fans come with LED lighting. If you want to turn off the lights when they get annoying, then make sure that your CPU cooler has that option.

Mounting Brackets

CPU coolers can come with various mounting brackets to work with different CPU socket sizes. Make sure that your cooler comes with a compatible mounting bracket.

Size

Before you buy the biggest cooler possible, make sure that your case and motherboard configuration have room for it.

Also, ensure that other components on your motherboard won't interfere due to size constraints. For example, do your memory modules (DIMMs) have tall heat spreaders?

Price

In general, air-based coolers are going to be lower cost than water cooling systems.

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The LGA 1700 socket will require a CPU cooler that supports the new socket size. Some manufacturers are releasing upgrade kits for LGA 1200 heatsinks to support the new size.

Unlocked Intel CPUs do not come with a stock CPU cooler. These CPUs have a "K" in the name (e.g., 12900K).

Best Dual-Fan Air CPU Cooler: Thermaltake TOUGHAIR 510

  • This CPU cooler doesn't have any fancy LED lights, but the dual 120 mm fans do a great job of cooling LGA 1700 CPUs.
  • Suppose you think this cooler will take up too much space. In that case, Thermaltake has a few single-fan TOUGHAIR variants which use different orientations.
  • This CPU cooler has a 2000 RPM max speed for optimal cooling.
  • 180-watt TDP (Thermal Design Power) Thermaltake TOUGHAIR 510 Thermaltake TOUGHAIR 510 Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)

Other Considerations When Building a PC

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Want to brush up on other new technologies to consider when building a computer? Check out these articles: